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What is a Military Forensic Neuropsychologist? Guidelines for Selecting an Expert Forensic Neuropsychologist (Part 1)

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What is a Military Forensic Neuropsychologist?  Guidelines for Selecting an Expert Forensic Neuropsychologist (Part 1)

A military forensic neuropsychologist can be indispensable in a military court case where questions about impact of TBI, posttraumatic stress disorder, and other conditions are raised.  Rule of Court Martial 706 (RCM 706) permits military defense attorneys to request a psychological or psychiatric evaluation of their clients to determine whether the client lacked mental responsibility at the time of the allegation.  The forensic neuropsychologist evaluates the client to determine this question, and can potentially respond to questions about sanity and ability to participate in their defense both at the time of the alleged act as well as at the time of evaluation and trial.

The military forensic neuropsychologist can comment on whether a mental health or neurologic condition influenced the service member’s actions as well as mental responsibility.  Because of the neuropsychologist’s understanding of brain-behavior relationships and ability to assess cognitive and personality functioning, this specialist may have much to say about the defendant’s mental state and cognitive capacity at the time of the alleged offense.  After evaluating the defendant, the military forensic neuropsychologist prepares an evaluation report.  The military trial counsel (prosecution) obtains some abbreviated information in advance of the trial regarding the conclusions, but the defense receives the long or full version of the neuropsychologist’s findings immediately post-evaluation and pre-trial.

The military forensic neuropsychologist conducts his or her exam within the context of administrative separation hearings, courts martial cases, UCMJ-related cases, and is valuable in sentencing and mitigation.

The military forensic neuropsychologist should have a good understanding of conditions, symptoms and stressors commonly seen in this population.  An understanding of the deployment experience and readjustment to civilian life can be beneficial.  It is also important for the military forensic neuropsychologist to have had some exposure to more normative readjustment experiences after deployment.  An understanding of the service member’s military occupational specialty (MOS) and what constitutes fitness for duty is also important.  Unless the forensic neuropsychologist has seen a number of military related cases, it might be difficult to understand the normative military experience and therefore comment on the degree to which behaviors are abnormal, in some cases.  The military forensic neuropsychologist should also be aware of issues of underreporting, the stigma associated with seeking mental health help, and also overreporting and underreporting issues that have been tied to litigation.

Neuropsychologists who work with military populations should be well versed in the practice of neuropsychology in psychiatric populations.  Typically, neuropsychologists tend to work more with psychiatric or neurological populations.  When identifying an expert forensic neuropsychologist, it would be important to select an individual who has worked extensively with psychiatric populations and not solely, for example, in a hospital Neurology clinic.  Neuropsychologists should have familiarity with appropriate regulations pertaining to RCM as noted above.

Attorneys should carefully consider selection of a military forensic neuropsychologist, taking into consideration the above factors.  There are a number of individuals across the country who appear to specialize, in part, in military forensic neuropsychology, and this will be addressed in another blog post.  Attorneys should remember that there is quite a bit of variability in neuropsychologists’ exposure to military populations and should choose accordingly.

 

 

 

About the Author:

Dr. Messler is a board certified clinical neuropsychologist and licensed psychologist who has provided thousands of evaluations where the question of traumatic brain injury was raised. She has also served as expert consultant and witness. She believes it is critical to provide an objective, scientifically defensible opinion, and to help the jury and court understand the implications of the neuropsychological aspects of cases before them. As a prior active duty neuropsychologist, she has extensive experience in the area of military forensic neuropsychology.